“Pico del Águila, en el Ajusco” photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THE SQUARE ROOT OF HIM

WRITTEN BY MARA ASTI
A Mexican-American graphic design and creative writing student, I have lived most of my life in Mexico. My bicultural identity is a central aspect to my person, and I wish to address this in my writing with a candid hand and honest feelings. Even though I'm primarily an illustrator, writing and overthinking are my second passions.

I also really, really, love cats.
The Square Root of Him

i. Ashford

Your father is like your first home in Ashford, New Hampshire: big and sturdy—more of an illusory memory imbued with nostalgia rather than anything with real consistency. To you, the entire world rests within the cradling of his arms.

ii. Waterway

Like the forest around it, your house on 65 Waterway is a dreamscape. Unyielding like the light filtering through the trees, the memory of your time in that home comes to you as the ideal that once was. Laughter in every corner—this is where your life started. Your father is not like the forest in his mystery, he is like the ten-foot pine tree that sits in your living room come Christmas time—joy personified.

Because your father only knows how to give.

Six years old, and you already know perfection.

Six years old, and you already feel your world end.

The last time you look at your home in Riverway, you wonder why your mother is crying, and why your father’s expression hardens as he stares at the plane ticket in his hand.

Mexico.

Perhaps, you think, that’s when his heart hardened, too.

iii. Acatlan

Like the rocky road it rests on, your grandparents’ house is old and battered. A large boulder sits in front of it, and this is where you and your cousins compete for the throne at the highest point.

Your father’s voice is the quiet steps in the night—assuming a guilty verdict for a trial where he is both the defendant and the judge, he cannot stare his criminal inability to provide for his family in the face, and so he hides away, losing himself in borrowed rooms.

And like the shocks of new culture, new dirt, new languages, betrayal as the Spanish rolled r doesn’t come to you “the way it should,” so comes the shock of new blood. A bruise forms on your arm, and when you belatedly realize your father is the culprit, the iron-coated taste of injured nerve-endings teaches you the consequences of being ‘annoying.’

You never knock on a door that hard again.

iv. Gaviota & Jacarandas

Like the strike of a belt, trauma strips off the skin cells of the organ you call memory. And like the fading of scars, your fourth and fifth homes have long disappeared at the hands of your consciousness trying its hand at mercy.

v. Hermosillo

Like the hidden turn of the street it rests on, your home on 151 Hermosillo is barely visible. The house creeks with invisible wind as age washes it down.

Shoulder tense like coils, eager to release with the violent arch of a bowed arrow, your father spends most of his days locked away. His room, his workshop, his office. He doesn’t leave his temples, so you make sure to stay in yours.

When your mother yells—a threat by itself, as paper-thin walls carry the echo to your father’s ears—you hear the first step. The house goes quiet, and she too, realizes that he is irritated.

Stepping into the room where you and your sister are invariably arguing over something petty, he inhales sharply. Your core shakes with the reminder that men who are six feet and one inch tall are loud and scary.

You learn to defend yourself quietly.

vi. Bernabe de las Casas

Like the tiny gated community it sits in, your home on 1814 Bernabe de las Casas feels oppressive. Open-concept interiors do little to create the warm environment you’d except from a household of six plus three cats; the weight of your father’s presence is unrelenting.

It’s in the way your mother dissects your home to assess its impeccability, in the way that she shushes you and your siblings when he comes back home from work, in the way she raises him like a threat when she is tired.

“If you don’t stop that, I’ll call your father.”

It’s almost impressive, the speed with which the four of you line up and sit down.

The solar plexus of your home, your father rests in front of the diaphragm. He gives space to breathe—when content, fresh molecules of oxygen filter through nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, filling lungs and alveoli, letting the ribcage sag and sigh.

But, when inflamed,

you choke,

vomit rising before you can catch your breath.

A heavy voice that saturates every corner of your home with fear, it’s the ability to read a man’s mood from the way he exhales when he opens the front door by the time you’re ten.

In your childish stupidity, you challenge him. You considered it brave once, but now know bravery can’t exist without the understanding of consequence. Your father still towers over you, and when you question ideals he cannot bear to be challenged, he gives you a look you’re not quite sure you recognize as fatherhood, raises his hand, and the rest is history.

Your mother weeps one last time as you struggle to breathe, and she tells him that he will never lay another finger on you.

vii. La Pinta

Like the endless road it rests on, your home on 1001 La Pinta takes a long time to build. Land bought when you were ten, the lot sat there, growing weeds and dust motes until your family can afford construction.

After a year, your family settles into a kitchenless house with unfinished rooms, and even now, the room intended for celebration has been turned into a makeshift storage room.

Repurposed.

Terrified of becoming the man he hates the most—your father remolds himself. Carves a hole into the gaping cavity in his chest; carves and carves and carves, rebuilding the very core of his person, until there is nothing left of his own father.

Brick by brick by brick, layered atop the man that didn’t know how to call your father’s name without a scowl and the lingering scent of alcohol tracing his words—his hands only for delivering pain and uncertainty—your father exorcises him. Exorcises the imprints of his palms and the bond in their shared name.

Your home is built on your father’s effort.

Like the endless road it rests on, like the big yard (without the picket fence—this is Mexico after all), like the warmth of the morning sun, like the stifling presence of memories that are but will never be again, like the filtered air you breathe every day, like the spaces of incompleteness where furniture is still missing—

You lived there for five years.

There is never an apology.

He is awkward, uncertain, questioning, mindful of his hands, his power, his height, and his strength. Still quick to raise his voice when questioned, but your mother’s words do not fall on deaf ears.

Because your father only knows how to give. Once, only pain and bruises and belt strikes and open-palmed beatings, and fear,

fear,

fear.

But your father only knows how to give. And when he becomes incapable of giving fear, out of guilt, out of sadness, or regret, your father throws everything away to give you a home.

viii. Grove Way

Like my home in 675 Grove Way, my father is miles away. He is both distant in the physical components of his person, but also from the man I grew up recognizing as Dad. Faded white marks still rest beneath layers of skin—it is not as simple as outgrowing a grudge, I discover—but they are barely visible. Stitched shut violently in a way that perhaps pretends to forgive and forget, or maybe has only forgotten.

He says, “I miss you!” and “I love you!” through text—asks about work, about school.

“Are you happy?” He asks over the phone, day after day after day. “Promise me you’re happy.”

My father carves into himself without question; lays himself down to work until his hairs turn gray, so he can be the foundation of my home.

His eyes shy away from mine when we fight, terrified as he is of breaking what little precious he has built. And I,

in my weakness or in my strength, cannot find it in me to hate him.

In my weakness, or in my strength,

in the way I take after him,

I can only give, too.

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